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SCARECROW: The American Sign Language (ASL) sign for "scarecrow"

How you should sign "scarecrow" is going to depend on your conversation partner or audience, your goal, and how much context you have.

For example, if your goal is to entertain children you might prefer to do a depictive sign for SCARECROW in which you raise your arms to the side and make yourself look as if you were a scarecrow posted in a field. However that is going to require context to make sense.

If you are having a chat with an adult you might choose to sign one of the two parts of the word (scare or crow) and then spell the other part. For example, sign FEAR-(scare) and then spell "crow."


Option:  Sign SCARE and spell "crow."

Option: fingerspell the whole word "scarecrow."

Option.  Depict a scarecrow:  After introducing the concept or showing a picture of a scarecrow, do a depictive (or classifier-like) version of SCARECROW in which you show what a scarecrow looks like.  You are using a body classifier:  splaying your arms and maybe tilting your head a bit as if you were a scarecrow.

Option: Sign SCARE + BIRD and use your mouth to mouth the words scare and crow.
Keep in mind that if you decide to do a  compound sign version of "scarecrow" -- using SCARE+BIRD  just use a small movement for "scared" and a single (non-repeated) movement for BIRD. Do the combination quickly and without the "scared" facial expression.

Option 5: Expand:  Spell scarecrow and then use classifiers to show an upside-down dominant-hand V "attached" to an upright non-dominant index finger.

See below for more discussion (if you feel like it).

I recently asked a friend how they sign "scarecrow" and they replied that they would just sign SCARE and spell crow.

"If you're telling a story to entertain an audience, it would be a different approach filled with classifiers," they said, but for simple conversation "I don't want to spend 5 minutes to set up the scenery, the crops, the birds, the upset farmer, the building of the scarecrow."


Question:  An Interpreter writes:

Good morning Dr. Vicars, 

.... I am a new interpreter working on improving my faceting skills. A few weeks ago, my mentor and I were discussing scarecrow term and she sent this adorable story.  There is a great example of a Facet at the beginning of this story for the word 'Scare' (which is not the same meaning as scared) 'crow'. 
48 secs to 55 secs. 

The Scarecrow  [YouTube video ID: WZHRe-JRd4I] [CSD Library]

There is a great example of a Facet at the beginning of this story for the word 'Scare' (which is not the same meaning as scared).

What do you think?

[Some edits and name removed to protect this person's privacy]



Hello ██████,

My thinking regarding "scarecrow" is currently pretty much the same today as it was about 20 years ago.



I would suggest to you that the (so called) "right" way to sign something is "audience dependent" and that using a "highly depictive, expanded, explained, storybook" sign intended for children is great -- when you are telling stories to children. 


My thoughts regarding the sign for SCARE is that ASL contains an overlapping spectrum of "right" ways to sign things.  The fact that there are highly depictive ways / highly 3D (three dimensional) ways to sign things doesn't mean that more symbolic (arbitrary symbolism) linear ways are "not" also ASL.  


Those who suggest otherwise might be exhibiting a dysconscious (or even conscious / callous) bias toward performance or idealized ASL rather than functional ASL as used by actual Deaf people for whom ASL is central to their daily real-life communication.


While the general sign SCARE can indeed be modified or inflected (via a forward thrust of the torso and head combined with a menacing expression) to incorporate the meaning (or "facet") of "to scare" / "to cause fear in an other" -- that doesn't mean that the uninflected sign for SCARE cannot be combined with other ASL signs to create the meaning of "to scare" / "to cause fear in an other." For example:  YOU SCARE ME!  I SCARE IX-(he/she/they).


To teach the inflected version and claim that the uninflected version is wrong or English-like because it is not highly depictive is to do a disservice to Deaf who don't feel like signing in an overly dramatic / performance-like way.  To teach a student to sign in an overly dramatic / highly depictive way without providing guidance as to the importance of matching one's signing to one's audience is to risk creating signers who annoy or cause a form of cognitive dissonance in their conversation partners by signing to them as if they were a child or sitting in an audience at a performance when instead they are simply sitting across the table at a coffee social.


Greenhouses are (generally) not "green" and not "houses" -- yet we sign GREEN-HOUSE.  


Scarecrows are not scared birds yet adult signers signing to other adult signers may appropriately choose to sign SCARE + CROW-(fs) or some other non-highly-depictive version of SCARECROW.


And that is fine.  


However, some ASL teachers may try to tell you it is not fine.  So ask them, why it is it fine to sign GREEN and HOUSE to mean "greenhouse" but not SCARE and BIRD or SCARE and CROW-(fs) to mean "scarecrow?"   (Or hey how about signing an alternating movement version of "vacation / holiday" to mean Hollywood?!?) 


Then if and when they give you their answer please know that it is an opinion (just like all of the above is "my" opinion) and consider it one more vote toward signing something one way or another.    


As I've been known to state elsewhere:  Sign the way you need to sign in order to get the grade you want from your current ASL teacher. (Or in your case, the reaction you want from your mentor.) Then when the class is over go out into the Deaf Community and sign like skilled, native, socially active, adult Deaf signers do.


Sure, if you are telling stories to kids or "an audience expecting a performance" be dramatic and have fun!   

+ Bill



William G. Vicars Ed.D.  

Suggested reading:


Notes and previous thinking on this topic from about 20 years ago -- see below:

In a message dated 10/22/2002 4:39:13 PM Central Daylight Time, Anna writes:

Dr. Bill,
I have been going crazy trying to find the sign for scarecrow and was thrilled when a search for it brought me to your website. Unfortunately, it is one of the signs not yet up and running, could you email me a description of it as soon as possible? I have some elementary teachers trying to teach their kids a Halloween song with the word scarecrow in it.

Dear Anna,

There is no widely established sign for scarecrow.
I interviewed dozens of expert signers.
No sign, nada, zip. Sorry.

There are workarounds, of course.

You can to explain it the first time. Then you can establish a sign for it to be used during that SAME conversation.

For storytelling to young children you could do a mime-type sign wherein you hold your arms up and tilt your head as if you were a scarecrow. Most of my peers seemed to agree that such a sign would be adequate for various storytelling activities if it were properly introduced.

If you are chatting with a Deaf farmer you could sign "SCARE" plus "BIRD."  However, would you believe that none of the (Deaf) people I showed that (compound) sign to liked it. Bah! I think I'm just surrounded by language purists. I reckon if I asked a wider audience I'd get a fair number who would go for "SCARE + BIRD." What I really want to do is find a native Deaf adult farmer (who has his own scarecrow) and has him (or her) how he signs scarecrow! But, until I actually do meet such a farmer and/or get any sort of consensus, I'm going to recommend that if you want to be "safe" then spell out S-C-A-R-E-C-R-O-W if you just need to convey it once or twice. If you've got to tell a story about a scarecrow and use the word again and again I recommend you establish a conversation specific mime-type sign for "SCARECROW" (or sign SCARE+BIRD).

- Dr. Bill
p.s. If you go the fingerspelling route, then abbreviating "scarecrow" to SC on the second and future references might save you from a hand cramp.

In a message dated 11/17/2006 1:59:17 A.M. Pacific Standard Time, cpt.scarecrow@ writes:
I've just started learning sign language a bit. And so far I just know a few words and the alphabet.
However I wanted to post a "Thank You" movie on for someone who had introduced me to sign language in basic signs. I found most words online. However for my nickname (Scarecrow) I didn't find a single sign. The only somewhat helpful page I found was in which you tell someone that there isn't a scarecrow sign (yet).
I was thinking about that, and although I'm completely new to sign language, the "mime-type sign wherein you hold your arms up and tilt your head as if you were a scarecrow" as you suggested seems a bit of a large sign to me. I was also thinking more into the lines of scare+bird, but as you said the "experts" didn't like that I thought of another sign.
I based my nickname on the book Scarecrow from Matthew Reilly. The origin of the main characters nickname 'Scarecrow' is based upon vertical scars running over each of his eyes (which were inflicted during torturing). I don't know much about scarecrows, but since the author of the book thought vertical scars over the eyes would make people think of a scarecrow i thought that could be used as a sign for it.
So the sign I would suggest for "scarecrow" would be to hold both your index fingers in front of your eyes.
Does this seem like a good sign to you, and more importantly, is it a new sign, or does it already mean something else?
Thanks in advance for your answer,
- "Scarecrow"

Dear "Scarecrow,"
Hmmm, I don't think the general Deaf community would go for the vertical index fingers in front of the eyes. I personally don't care for it much either since when I think of a scarecrow I don't think of scars on the eyes.
I do think of "hay" poking out from the collar and the sleeves though.  Thus a sign based on crossing the hands over the chest so that the fingers poke out from the neck as if representing "hay" might be an interesting possibility.
I will ask around again (now that I'm in a different state from where I did my earlier research) and see what people think around here or if any of them already have a sign.
Something to consider: Even though I don't recommend the "vertical index fingers in front of the eyes" sign to be used as a general sign for "scarecrow" it occurs to me that such a sign would make a very interesting namesign for you personally (since you like being referred to as "scarecrow").
--Dr. Bill






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